Tag Archives: hotel

Olympiada – Loulou’s story

My entry for The Telegraph’s Just Back weekly travel writing competition:

Loulou carried plate after plate out to the sunny terrace. Kiwi fruit, yoghurt, feta cheese – drizzled with oil and specked with oregano gathered on Aristotle’s mountain. Tomatoes from the small garden, fat olives, pale green peppers. And freshly baked bougatsa, a traditional Greek breakfast pastry, dusted with sugar.

And then the main dish – a round terracotta ramekin with steaming baked eggs, tomato, peppers and pastourma, air-dried meat rooted in Ottoman history.

Her husband quietly dug the vegetable patch as we ate, joking that despite his retirement, he remained as busy as ever, restoring every room of the Liotopi himself.

The family own two hotels and a beachside restaurant in Olympiada, a small village built around an arc of sand, where the Strimonikos Gulf of the Aegean sea kisses the shore on the knuckle of the third finger of the Halkidiki peninsula.

Olympiada is named after the mother of Alexander the Great. The partly excavated ancient city of Stageira stands above the village, high on a rocky promontory to the south and en route to the monastic haven of Mount Athos, at the fingertip of the peninsula. Stageira is the birthplace of Aristotle, Greece’s most favoured philosopher and tutor to warrior Alexander.

But Olympiada wasn’t always so alluring.

The Alexiadou family were expelled from their Asia Minor home in 1922, escaping from Smyrna along with thousands of other Orthodox Greeks, to avoid a brutal death at the hands of marauding Turks. At the same time, long-settled Muslims left Greek Macedonia to cross the Aegean in the opposite direction.

After breakfast, we strolled along the road to Loulou’s other hotel. Here, she posed proudly underneath a grainy black and white photograph of her grandparents. When the Alexiadous arrived in Olympiada in the early 1920s, it was a desolate, marshy place. Many of their friends and fellow refugees died from malaria, others fled to Thrace or safer places in Macedonia. Access to the village was by boat only, the first road not arriving until the 1960s, winding down to the village through densely wooded hills.

But Loulou’s grandparents stayed, carving out a new life through hard work and a desire to grow fresh, enduring roots. The refugee family’s mantra was passed down through the generations: always care more for people than for money. And every moment you spend at the Liotopi, you feel confident that sentiment will endure for another century.   

We had been given fruit liqueurs and delicate homemade cakes as soon as we had climbed the wide, steep steps to the hotel’s entrance hall. And, arriving back in our room late that night, a mince pie-like fresh pastry rested on a small tray on the bed, against which lay a hand-written card and the message:

Good night – with love – Loulou, Tina, Anastasia

A review of The Croydon Park Hotel

Below is a commissioned review of The Croydon Park Hotel I have just had published on Silver Travel Advisor, a travel website for people of a certain age…..

(Croydon may not be the most glamorous travel destination, granted…..but they’re sending me to Greece next, so watch this space for a review of Thessaloniki and northern Greece, in April).


Let’s be honest, Croydon might not be the first place you think of staying in. But perhaps I can make you reconsider those preconceptions.

Croydon Park HotelI’ve just spent a night as a guest of the 4* Croydon Park Hotel, located perfectly for easy access by train to central London (less than 20 minutes to Victoria or London Bridge), and to Gatwick Airport (journey time 15-20 minutes, trains every 15 minutes during peak times).

The hotel is very welcoming, and all the staff members exude a friendly, professional image from the moment you arrive.

Our 4th floor room – recently refurbished in calming, neutral colours – was spacious and comfortable, with a sofa and table as well as a King-sized bed, flat-screen TV and every other amenity expected these days. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel.

Croydon Park Hotel




Before dinner, work up  an appetite in the gym  or in the 35-foot long  indoor pool, or heat up  in the jacuzzi or sauna.  The H2O Leisure Club is  free to hotel guests, and also has external local members.

Head to Whistlers Bar for a drink in a warm atmosphere, either before dinner in Oscars Brasserie or for a lighter supper while you watch a sports game on the huge screens.

But the main culinary event happens every day and evening at Oscars: feast on an all-you-can-eat 5 course gourmet buffet, for a fixed price of £22.50 pp (£27.50 with a ½ bottle of decent wine).

Croydon Park HotelStart with fresh soup, or a seafood medley of salmon, lobster, prawns and mussels, together with a wide option of salads. Move on to the freshly carved meat du jour, with chicken, fish and other meats already lined up on the groaning table, next to vegetables, rice, sauces and more trimmings than you’d see at a curtain exhibition. If you’re still going, choose one of the many sweets – the vanilla cheesecake is highly recommended – before filling up completely with cheeses, tea and coffee.

The breakfast buffet is no less impressive, whether you’re going Continental or traditional full English. But save some space for croissants and Danish pastries with your fresh coffee.

Croydon Park Hotel

If you’re staying local, visit the Horniman Museum & Gardens, like I did as a 6 year-old on school visits a lifetime ago. Sports fans will want to head to Twickenham Stadium for rugby, Crystal Palace for football andWimbledon for the annual tennis pilgrimage. The brilliant Tramlink is a painless 45 minutes from Croydon to Wimbledon.

Back in Croydon town centre, I have vivid memories of being dragged along to the newly opened Whitgift shopping centre in the late 1960s. It’s still there, but over the next few years a recently confirmedinvestment of £1bn will transform it into a vast Westfield retail centre, together with homes, offices, and leisure activities that will regenerate Croydon as the best place to live, shop and work in south London.

The Croydon Park Hotel is well positioned now, as a cost effective alternative to high priced London hotels just 20 minutes away, and it will only continue to benefit from the transformation of Croydon itself in the very near future.

Premier Inns – Purple Heaven…..or Purple Hell?

Just back from a road trip, photographing mortgaged properties in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex. Very glamorous. Think I prefer Bermuda.

It’s for my brother’s business, so I was governed by the company’s expenses guidelines: Where specifically agreed by a Director an overnight stay can be arranged at a Premier Inn or similar, and this should include a “meal deal” for dinner and breakfast.

And so it came to pass that I immersed myself in the purple world of Premier Inns for 3 nights……

First stop, Norwich.  5 – yes 5 – to choose from in and around that great city.  I opted for the Nelson City Centre one. Big mistake. Took me ages to find it. Never drive in Norwich unless you have to, the 1-way system is insanely confusing. £96.99 for the room, dinner & breakfast.

Next up, Ipswich. Another 5 locations. Went for the Quayside one, confronting another debilitating 1-way system – in rush hour. A whopping £104.99, for the room and meal deal. And £4 for the car park. Once you find it, hidden away down a road marked “closed”.

The final night was in Chelmsford. Just 3 choices this time, and I went for the Springfield one, rather than the city centre option. Another traffic meltdown in the late afternoon rush hour, gridlock on the A12 leading to the attractive service station area where the hotel is located, nestled between the BP garage and McDonald’s. A table-topping £108.99 for the room and meal deal.

So, what were my impressions of Premier Inn World…..

  • functional: what you see is what you get no-frills overnight stays. Luxury hospitality this ain’t
  • purple, purple, purple everywhere. Even on that purposeless long strip of fabric they lay at the end of the bed
  • meal deals. Not bad options for dinner, but the menu still echoes to the beat of Wimpy bars and Berni Inns from the 1970s. Breakfast is an all-you-can-eat buffet, or a few healthier options. But psychology kicks in if you’ve paid for it already….
  • the free wifi service was frustrating as hell. Free yes, but it took forever to get online….and then when you did, it often fell away just as you were about to send an email. There’s a paid alternative – £5 for 24 hours – for a service 8x faster than the free one. But 8x nothing is still nothing. Appalling in this digital era. Currently outsourced to Arqiva….I suggest they find another provider, pronto
  • the punters: lorry drivers, salesmen, refrigeration engineers, blue-collar workers in logo’d fleeces
  • the staff: well trained in smiley Premier-Inn- speak. Purple tongues
  • the rooms: boxes in boxed buildings, containing everything you need for 12 hours in your hospitality capsule in over-populated, traffic-clogged 21st century England
  • the beds: the undoubted highlight. Hypnos. With pillows as soft, fluffy and deep as Lenny Henry’s mellifluous voice, extolling the virtues of a night in Purple Heaven

Whitbread own Premier Inn.


With over 700 hotels in the UK and 59,000 rooms in great locations, you’ll never be far from a Premier Inn and we’ve set an ambition to have 85,000 rooms by 2020. Internationally, we have five hotels in the Middle East and three in India, with further developments in the pipeline and a target for 50 international hotels by 2018.

I can’t wait.


Tasmania – Hobart

Friday, February 13 to Monday, February 16

Well, it sure was nice to sleep in  a comfy and spacious hotel room in Hobart after 10 days – and nights – exploring Tasmania’s coasts and wildernesses in the confines of a camper van.

The Old Woolstore is an attractive conversion of an old industrial building, in a good city location, in much the same way as the amazing transformation of the old IXL Jam Factory by the dock is now the beautiful Henry Jones Art Hotel, and the old Gas Works is an atmospheric winery cellar door.

We enjoyed Hobart but were only there for 3 nights and, battery-recharging after a hyperactive tour of Tassie, opted to chill out rather than chase all the conventional sightseeing targets.

But we did spend Saturday morning at the renowned 300-stall Salamanca Market, loved wandering around the dock area seeing the crayfish pots unloaded, and on Sunday walked the 3-4 km out of the city on the Hobart Rivulet Path to be shocked out of our smug 21st century complacency visiting The Female Factory.

And we also explored the genteel Victorian suburb of Battery Point, where we succumbed – twice – to the irresistible delights of Jackman & McRoss, a bakery & deli that every neighbourhood should have. In fact, we should have talked to them about opening up a franchise in Godalming…..

But our overriding memories of Hobart will also be tinged with sadness, as it was a stepping off point for successive European explorers culminating in the British invasion of Van Diemen’s Land, our genocide of the indigenous Aborigines in the 1820s and subsequent colonisation of the island with transported convicts, horrifically abused until they had earned their free ticket.

Not to say that detracted in any way from our enjoyment of a naturally beautiful island and its relaxed capital city, but its history was rightly in our faces in the museum, in The Female Factory, in guide books and on illumination story boards around the dock area.

But Hobart and Tasmania are great 21st century holiday destinations, and I’m very pleased we included them on the Grand Slam Tour 2015.

Melbourne Park – The Aussie Open

Day 13 – Tuesday, January 27

Checked into our rather posh Melbourne hotel – The Langham – late morning, and I was as bouncy as a kangaroo on speed to be handed our welcome pack from Sportsnet by the liveried concierge.

I’d booked the tennis and hotel package almost a year ago, and wasn’t expecting much more than the tickets for the semi-final sessions on Thursday and Friday.

But in our sumptuous 19th floor room, overlooking the mighty Yarra river, we unearthed a quality rucksack each,  baseball caps, sunscreen, folding seats for those sensitive Pom bums, a poshly printed itinerary, our Myki visitor value pack for exploring the city….and a rather fetching leatherette man-bag containing the all-important tickets and dangly lanyard thingies.  Strewth mate, welcome to the Aussie Open.

I’d also joined the official AO body a while back, which gave us general access to the grounds and outside courts for 1 day….so we ambled in the direction of Melbourne Park, crossing the river and dodging energetic joggers and cyclists at the same time as dozens of rowing crews were put through their paces by megaphoned coaches on the other bank. Sporty bunch, these Aussies.

We enjoyed a cracking few hours introduction to the Open, watching some snippets of games on outside courts as well as on a couple of the show courts, seeing Sharapova The Grunter outclass young Ms Bouchard on the big screen as we munched through dodgy hot dogs, and then witnessed the sad demise of Rafa Nadal at the hands of Berdych, from the comfort of the Game, Set & Match suite, courtesy of the AO membership.

A good warm up for the day’s main event, young Aussie pretender Nick Kyrgios taking on our very own – well, Scotland’s – Andy Murray, being played out in the night session on the main Rod Laver Arena.

We ended up watching that start in the Crown Riverside area, cold tinnies in hand, and conclude back in the comfort of our hotel suite. Andy Murray played really well to squash the hopes of the young pretender – and the entire Australian nation – and we’re really excited that we’ll be at the Rod Laver Arena to see him play against Berdych for a place in the final. Andy, not Rod.